More Immigration or Bust

Originally published in the Sept. 2013 issue of the Nova Scotia Business Journal, by Fred Morley

Economic development professionals are always looking for an edge for their community ­–– something that will help them out-compete their neighbours.  Smart communities have figured out that immigrants can give them that edge over the competition.

In Nova Scotia, our provincial immigration strategy has figured out that we need more newcomers. We just haven’t figured out how to get a lot more.  Immigration levels have been flat over the last number of years although there was a bump in permanent residents to about 2,400 in 2012, about the same as Kitchener, Ontario. In addition, we had about 4,400 temporary foreign workers and about 3,300 international students working and studying hard in our province in 2012.

The good news here in Nova Scotia is that organizations like Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia, the Greater Halifax Partnership and the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration have figured out how to retain more immigrants. We are up from mid 40 per cent retention a decade ago to over 70 per cent these days. But as economic development organizations know, good isn’t good enough when it comes to immigration.

So how do immigrants help economies grow?  A recent research paper by the International Economic Development Council in Washington DC laid this out pretty clearly.

According to this recently published report (The Economic Development Impacts of Immigration), immigrants can enhance the attractiveness of a community to external investors by rounding out the labour pool with skills that may be in short supply locally. At the other end of the labourforce spectrum, immigrants often take jobs that are not in their field or below their skill level. Immigrant spending creates demand in local stores, restaurants and for other service providers.  In general, immigrants are as close to the magic elixir for community growth as economic developers can find…

Read the entire article on the Greater Halifax Partnership’s Smart City Blog